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Belligerence as cover

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 9, 2012
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/51583-belligerence-as-cover.html

Questions on Aircel-Maxis deal unanswered

Serious questions of Ministerial impropriety have been raised by this newspaper in exclusive reports on the acquisition of Aircel Cellular Ltd by Maxis, a Malaysia-based telecom firm, published on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Aircel-Maxis deal of 2006 has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for some time now. The then Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran has had to resign from the Union Cabinet and his role in that acquisition deal is being scrutinised by the CBI; the last word on why and how Aircel, a company on the verge of bankruptcy in 2005, was sold for a whopping `4,000 crore to a little-known entity is yet to be heard. But the alleged deal-fixing through reportedly unsavoury means is only one part of the messy Aircel-Maxis story. The other, and no less important, part is about whether the then Finance Minister (and now Minister for Home Affairs) P Chidambaram also had a finger in the Aircel-Maxis pie which helped his son Karti earn a huge profit from the deal by first cornering a five per cent stake in Aircel and then offloading it to Maxis when it acquired 74 per cent stake in the company. Mr Chidambaram has denied any wrong-doing on his part. He has emphatically denied that as Finance Minister he sat on FIPB approval for Maxis to acquire Aircel; that clearance was given in March and not October 2006 and, hence, the question of delaying the deal to facilitate his son’s windfall profit-making does not arise. However, neither his denial nor the UPA Government’s stout defence of Mr Chidambaram stands up to scrutiny. Records suggest that there is a divergence between what the Minister and the Government claim, and the evidence on hand. Surprisingly, unmindful of the potentially damaging consequences of continued denial premised on dubious claims, the Government has shown little wisdom in adopting a belligerent posture after the Opposition took up the issue in Parliament on Tuesday.

Even at this stage had the Government offered to look into the allegations in a free and fair manner would have helped it avoid further embarrassment. But it has chosen to brazen it out, much as it did in the early days when the 2G Spectrum scam was exposed by this newspaper. By the time the Government realised that defending the indefensible was outright foolish and damaging to its already tarred image, enormous damage had been inflicted by the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery whose stain will forever tarnish the UPA and whose shadow shall continue to stalk the Congress and the Prime Minister, no matter how hard they try to shake it off. There is no percentage in being obstinate and refusing to clarify valid doubts that have been raised — by this newspaper and parliamentarians — about the Aircel-Maxis deal. The evidence that militates against the Government’s claim and the Minister’s denial is too overwhelming to be disregarded. The explanation, such as it is, has been too flip and simplistic to be taken seriously. As today’s front page report points out, there is clearly more to the deal than meets the eye. The Government must explain, and convincingly so, why the records do not reflect what it claims to be the factual position. Or else it should admit that there were lapses and these can’t be attributed to ‘coalition compulsion’. Nothing less will suffice.
 
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